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Israel and Syria Exchange Prisoners; Syria Gets Back a Convicted Spy

Israel and Syria exchanged prisoners today at the Bnot Yaacov bridge on their border in the north, Israel receiving back four men who had been incarcerated in Syria for periods varying from three years to 12 years. Syria got, in return, six men, one of them a convicted spy.

The four Israelis returned by Syria are Yosef Shamesh, 43, who crossed over into Syria 12 years ago; Yehuda Vaankin, 26, who went into Syria three years ago; Shlomo Yifrach, 32, who entered Syria 11 years ago; and Yitzhak Reznik, who has been imprisoned by Syria when he was caught across its border nine years ago. Israeli authorities said all four men had “suffered terribly” in Syrian jails and declared that three of the men, if not all four, are now mentally unstable as a result of their experiences.

Israel had expected to get a fifth man back from Syria, named Avraham Daskal, who had crossed over the Syrian border 15 years ago. But during the prisoner exchange negotiations, Syrian authorities said that Daskal had died in one of their prisons three years ago. The Syrians refused to turn over Daskal’s remains.

The six Syrians returned included Mouhammed Arifa, a convicted spy who was serving a 15-year sentence here. Israel offered a year ago to exchange him for Eli Cohen, the alleged Israeli intelligence man, who was convicted as a spy by a court in Damascus and, later, executed. Syria had refused to exchange Cohen for Arifa. Now they took Arifa; a man who is insane; and four Syrian sailors who were detained aboard a Lebanese boat in April, 1964. Syria at first denied that it was holding any Israeli prisoners, but finally admitted it held the four returned today.

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